What is dilated cardiomyopathy?

Dilated cardiomyopathy is the most common form of cardiomyopathy. The heart muscle becomes enlarged and stretched (dilated), causing the heart to become weak and pump inefficiently. Other problems that may occur with dilated cardiomyopathy include the following:

  • Irregular heart rhythms

  • Risk of blood clots

  • Congestive heart failure

  • The dilated left ventricle can affect the leaflets of the mitral valve, which separates the left atrium and the left ventricle, the left-sided chambers of the heart. The valve leaflets become leaky, resulting in mitral regurgitation (or mitral insufficiency) whereby the blood moves backward from the left ventricle to the left atrium, rather than moving forward to the body.

Various infections (including viral) which lead to inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis) can cause this type of cardiomyopathy.

Contact with toxins or very powerful therapeutic drugs, such as certain types of chemotherapy given to fight cancer, have been known to cause dilated cardiomyopathy. Heredity can also be a factor. Twenty percent of people with dilated cardiomyopathy have a parent or sibling with the disease. In many cases, a specific cause for this type of the disease is never identified.

Because the heart muscle is weak and unable to pump enough blood to meet the body's demands, the body may try to preserve blood flow to essential organs such as the brain and kidneys by reducing blood flow to other areas of the body, such as the skin and muscles.

The following are the most common symptoms of dilated cardiomyopathy. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Pale or ashen skin color

  • Cool, sweaty skin

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Rapid breathing rate

  • Shortness of breath

  • Fatigue

  • Irritability

  • Chest pain

  • Poor appetite

  • Slow growth

Specific treatment for dilated cardiomyopathy will be determined by your child's health care provider based on:

  • Your child's age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the disease

  • Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the disease

  • Your opinion or preference

Your child's health care provider may recommend medications to accomplish the following:

  • Help the heart beat more effectively

  • Decrease the workload of the heart

  • Decrease the oxygen requirements of the heart

  • Prevent blood clots from forming

  • Decrease inflammation of the heart

  • Regulate irregular heartbeats

In some cases, dilated cardiomyopathy due to viral causes improves over time. In other cases, the condition worsens and transplantation of the heart may be considered. Consult your child's health care provider for more information regarding the specific outlook for your child.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 314.454.5437 or 800.678.5437 or email us.